Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Release Date: October 12, 2018
In “Beautiful Boy”, Michael Scott and the kid who fucks a peach in Call Me By Your Name do their best to prop up a weak script that doesn’t know if it wants to be a father/son drama or a drug abuse PSA.
Beautiful Boy is Belgium-born director Felix Van Groeningen’s first English language film and next in a line of movies produced by Amazon Studios, aimed at making Jeff Bezos the king of humanity. Since Amazon studios began distributing movies in 2016, 35 movies have fallen under the imprint, but none have matched the acclaim of 2016’s Manchester By the Sea. Beautiful Boy appears to be Amazon’s latest attempt to make award season noise.
Aside from a trailer that screams “Academy of Motion Pictures, please suck me off,” the real draw to this movie is its two leads, Steve Carell and Timotheé Chalamet. Carell, now 13 years removed from his career-catalyzing role on The Daily Show, is currently on a Robin Williams-like career trajectory. After establishing himself as a genius comedic actor, he’s now established himself as a more-than-capable dramatic actor. With a performance for the ages in 2014’s Foxcatcher, he’s earned a bonafide seat at the big boy’s table. Chalamet, of Call Me By Your Name fame, is currently in the midst of a death-match with Lucas Hedges for the title of America’s most marketable indie darling. Both are bright spots in Beautiful Boy, but not bright enough to overcome the movie’s weak script and lack of focus.
Beautiful Boy is a real-life story adapted from the memoirs of father/son duo David and Nic Sheff. The story follows David (Carell) and his son Nic (Chalamet) through Nic’s on-again-off-again relationship with methamphetamines. David spends the movie trying to rescue Nic, in hopes that his “beautiful boy” will re-surface from the depths of addiction. The movie generalizes the pain and suffering that is endured by all parties involved when addiction takes hold of an individual.
The movie’s main problem is that it’s caught in a real no man’s land. For the first third of this movie you’re led to believe that you’re going to get a case study into father/son dynamics. It strays from those themes later, but for that amount of time, the movie primarily involves David and Nic, largely from David’s perspective. As the movie progresses, there are extended periods of time where David is off-screen and feels like a secondary character. At this point, the movie starts to feel very preachy about drug use in general, without too much emphases on this particular story. By the end, this movie feels like something you would watch on the last day of D.A.R.E. week on a TV that your teacher wheeled in from the library.
Another issue, aside from its identity crisis, is that its basic structure feels wonky. From scene one of the movie Nic is already a Jesse Pinkman season 2 level meth head. The movie is structured with flashbacks to a younger, sober Nic meant to contrast his present persona and show the audience the “beautiful boy” he used to be. It’s always tricky asking the audience to play time cop, and you run the risk of taking the audience out of the movie if you handle the time travel poorly. In many instances within Beautiful Boy, the only indication that the audience has that time has changed is Nic’s sober versus drugged-out demeanor. Unfortunately, Timotheé Chalamet’s resting face looks pretty drugged-out and lifeless even when he’s stone-cold sober, so you have to pay close attention.
Overall, the time jumps seem counter-productive. The whole “beautiful boy” idea is that his family is trying to get back the beautiful boy they once knew. By starting the movie with a drugged-out Nic, and introducing us to sober Nic later, the audience has a different perspective than the characters in the movie. While Nic’s family views him as he once was, our default perception of Nic is junkie Nic, diminishing our ability to empathize. A linear story-line just makes more sense. The basic structure of the movie feels like a misguided attempt at some art house bull shit.
Despite its shortcomings, the movie does a good job of illustrating the fatiguing nature of an addiction cycle. The acting is strong. I don’t know if there’s an actor working today who can convey non-verbal sadness better than Steve Carell. That’s why Season 7, Episode 21 of The Office is so hard to watch. As someone who’s personally been around more meth heads than a Kansas City Goodwill, I give Chalamet my stamp of approval, although I’m not sure he’s the second-coming like everyone thinks he is. I think he might just be hot and we’re giving him points for that. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Beautiful Boy is not a terrible movie. It’s not even a bad movie. As a drug PSA it does a really good job, but remains surface level and general. As far as movie-making goes, it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not going to get the Oscar nominations that its fishing for.
Side note: Steve Carell’s ex-wife is played by Amy Ryan, a.k.a. Holly Flax from the Office, so now I have to imagine a reality where Michael Scott and Holly from H.R. get a divorce and their son becomes a meth head. Fuck you, Felix Van Groeningen. You didn’t need to do that.